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Critic roles stripped from MP who travelled internationally during COVID

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will reassign Niki Ashton's critic roles for travelling outside Canada during the pandemic.

Saturday January 2, 2021 | NATIONAL

by Mary P Brooke, editor | Island Social Trends

Impacts of personal decisions while in public office are flying all over the news these days.

The finance minister in Ontario (Rod Phillips) had to resign under pressure this week for taking a trip to the Caribbean (even though Premier Doug Ford knew about it). An Alberta cabinet minister (Tracy Allard) made a similar error in taking a trip recently to Hawaii, though she’s not been kicked out of caucus for it by Premier Jason Kenney (yet).

Now it turns out that the federal NDP are not immune to this sort of political misjudgment. One of their caucus members Niki Ashton, “stayed home for Christmas” (as if that was her full understanding of the no-gatherings public health regulations) but traveled internationally after that.

Whether these elected officials felt emotionally overwhelmed, pressured by family members, or simply deserving of a break during a stressful pandemic time, all of these privileged members of society are paying the price for their deception. Political life comes with a range of prices to pay, and openly misusing the privilege of position is now one of them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Party leaders are reaching varying levels of tolerance for the missteps, but in all cases they are dealing with how to minimize the fallout political damage.

Niki Ahston loses critic roles:

It’s high-profile news today that one of the federal NDP caucus members traveled to Greece to support a family member, despite public health directives about not travelling internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Niki Ashton, MP (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski) openly posted her trip to Greece on Twitter yesterday, January 1, not in any way seeming to realize the misstep she was making.

Niki Ashton, MP, NDP, Twitter, Greece
NDP MP Niki Ahston posted her trip to Greece on Twitter on January 1, 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until now Ashton been the NDP Critic for Public Ownership, Transport, and Official Languages (as posted on her Twitter feed), though the NDP website shows her critic roles as Critic for Public Ownership, Transport, and Deputy Critic for Women and Gender Equality. On Twitter, Ahston describes herself as a northerner, millennial and feminist.

Today NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced that Ahston will be stripped of her shadow critic roles. “Those roles will be reassigned to one or more NDP caucus members in the next few days and the new critics will continue this important work,” said Singh in a release. 

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

MPs are no exception:

“New Democrats know Canadians have spent the last few months staying home and not gathering with their family and friends in the hopes of beating this virus,” says Singh. “We will continue to support them in those efforts and will continue to fight for people and for better supports to help them stay home and stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The NDP leader was not told ahead of time about Ashton’s international trip. “Yesterday, it came to our attention that MP Niki Ashton travelled to Greece to see a very ill family member. The Leader and the Whip were not advised beforehand. And while the importance of staying home and doing their best to follow public health advice to protect themselves, their family and their communities was stressed to all MPs, Ms. Ashton deemed it necessary to go see this family member at this time.” 

Ahston has apparently reached out to Canadian officials for best practices, and will be following quarantine guidelines, it was outlined in today’s NDP release. “Travellers arriving from Canada are not allowed entry to Greece unless they can prove the essential nature of their travel. Ms. Ashton was allowed entry by Greek officials based on this urgent family situation.”

NDP profile in 43rd Parliament:

The NDP has been front and center of political efforts and votes in the House of Commons to protect and support Canadians — notably around securing a life-sustaining level for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and securing sick-leave for people who must stay home due to COVID exposure or illness.

The NDP caucus has 24 members (seats in the House of Commons), including Jagmeet Singh who represents Burnaby South. Of the 24 NDP MPs, three were elected by voters in Manitoba in the 2019 election.

43rd parliament, seats
Distribution and seating plans of 338 Members of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons. [Source: House of Commons – December 2020]

Other than Ashton, the only other NDP MPs in Manitoba are:

  • Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood—Transcona) who is already carrying several shadow critic roles: Critic for Democratic Reform • Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion • Export Promotion and International Trade • Western Economic Diversification, Deputy Critic for Finance
  • Leah Gazan (Winnipeg Centre) who is already carrying these key shadow critic roles: Critic for Families, Children and Social Development, Deputy Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Here on south Vancouver Island there are three NDP MPs:

  • Randall Garrison, MP (Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke) with shadow critic roles of Defence, Justice, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
  • Alistair MacGregor, MP (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford) with shadow critic roles of Agriculture, Rural Economic Development, and Deputy Critic for Justice.
  • Laurel Collins, MP (Victoria) with shadow critic roles of Caucus Vice Chair, Critic for Environment and Climate Change, Deputy Critic for Infrastructure and Communities.
Alistair MacGregor, MP, Cowichan-Malahat-Langford
Alistair MacGregor, MP (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford) is available by phone and email during COVID-19.